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Nations at war
This time around we have a few words to saynot entirely favorableabout some middle-of-the-pack books which a few readers will enjoy immensely while most folks pass them by. It's also worth noting that each of these books should be judged for what it is, not for what we want it to be, but they also must be considered within the context of what is already available on the subject.
Hooton, E.R. Luftwaffe at War, volume 1: Gathering Storm, 1933-1939. Hinckley, UK: Classic Publications, 2007
Photos; color profiles; maps; diagrams, tables; OBs; bibliography
Gathering Storm is the first of the Luftwaffe at War series from Classic. The lead-off title deals with the "emergence" of the Nazi air force, Luftwaffe participation in the Spanish Civil War, and the Polish campaign of 1939. E. R. Hooton has already written a well-received volume, Phoenix Triumphant, covering almost exactly the same topic and time frame as this book. That one extended the period to include the pre-Nazi years as well as the campaign in the west in 1940 and the Battle of Britain, but devoted the bulk of its 320 pages to the same material covered in these 96 pages.
For example, the older book treats the bombing of Guernica in about two pages of solid text. Gathering Storm compresses the Guernica story to less than a page, including several photos. Some of the text is very similar, with both books utilizing Richthofen's diary.
Here's an example from Phoenix Triumphant:
Surprisingly, there was no target file on [Guernica], although
it held the world-renowned Astra-Unceta small-arms factory, and when Richthofen
asked his staff 'Do any of you know anything about Guernica?', all shook their
heads. Yet during the morning of 25 April an He 45 of A/88 flew over the town's
Rentaria Bridge, which Richthofen provisionally earmarked for attack. However, he
was more interested in the village of Guerricaiz (to which he refers in his diary as
Guernicaiz), some six miles (10km) south-east of Guernica and six miles north-east
of Durango, through which the Basque left flank would have to retreat.
In the evening of 25 April he ordered a morning attack upon the village by K/88,
but even as this began, air reconnaissance reported heavy traffic in and around
Guernica, where, it appeared, enemy troops were massing. Although there were some
2,000 soldiers in the town, which the Basque Government had decided to fortify,
most of the 'troops' were actually refugees, but Richthofen saw a fantastic opportunity
to block the retreat of the entire Basque left which could then be enveloped. He
rushed to give the news to the Navarese Chief of Staff, Coronel Juan Vigon, who gladly
gave him permission to take the bombers off other missions to meet the new situation.
As Richthofen's diary for 26 April makes clear, the objective was to block the roads
south and east of Guernica. A/88 and J/88 were to comb the roads between Marquina
and Guerricaiz while the bombers (and Italians) were to concentrate 'on to roads and
the [Rentaria] bridge (including the suburbs) immediately east of Guernica.'
But instead the Condor Legion, now with 80 aircraft, struck Guernica itself in an
action widely portrayed as a deliberate attempt to cow the Basques by obliterating a
historic town. This credits the Germans with an understanding of Basque culture
which they did not begin to possess, while the subsequent destruction of the town
astonished Richthofen, as his diary entries for 27 and 30 April clearly show. The
mission was assigned to VB/88 and K/88 rather than the Hs 123s and Ju 87s because
the dive bombers could not carry an adequate bomb load over the mountains from
Burgos, yet the divergence between Richthofen's intentions and the way they were
executed strongly indicates that the orders were garbled in transmission from
Durango or misunderstood upon arrival.
The attack was made in the late afternoon by 26 bombers, which dropped 45
tonnes of bombs (including 2,500 incendiaries), and sixteen fighters (1. and 2.J/88),
which afterwards strafed people fleeing along the roads from the town. Because there
were no AA guns, VB/88's target-marking attack was made from 4,000ft (1,200m),
yet although there was little wind Moreau's bombs fell into the town on each side of
the river, hitting the railway station west of the river and an olive oil plant in the east.
The latter burned so fiercely that the town was quickly enveloped in a cloud of smoke
and dust. Most of K/88's bombs hit the eastern part of the town, although some fell
west of the river. No one knows how many diedestimates range from 250 to 1,500
people, of whom the majority were civiliansbut 80 per cent of the houses were either destroyed or seriously damaged.
And here's a parallel excerpt from Gathering Storm:
Although the Astra-Unecta [sic] small arms factory
lay in south-eastern Guernica with a rail station
to the north, there was no target folder; indeed
when Richthofen asked if any of his staff knew
anything about the town they all shook their heads.
On the evening of 25 April Richthofen decided to
But that morning A/88 reported the assembly of
large enemy forces (actually they were civilians on
their way to the market) around Guernica.
Richthofen saw an opportunity to use air power to
isolate and destroy these 'reserves' and rushed to see
Mola's Chief-of-Staff, Coronel Juan Vigon, who gave
him permission to abandon other missions and strike
the new target. VB/88 and K/88 (together with Italian
bombers whom he roped in for the mission) were to
strike what he believed were enemy troops on the
roads immediately east of Guernica and in the nearby
suburbs as well as the Rentaria Bridge, while J/88 and
A/88 interdicted the roads east of the river to herd the
defenders into the Guerricaiz killing ground.
But in communicating this concept from
Durango 160 kilometres over mountains to Burgos
there appears to have been confusion. Despite the best
efforts of Ln 88 the message was interpreted as an
attack upon Guernica and 26 bombers of K/88 and
VB/88, escorted by 16 fighters of 1. and 2.J/88, took
off. VB/88 dropped nearly eight tonnes of bombs
around the bridge and K/88 added 37 tonnes, most of
which struck the centre and south of the town while
a burning olive oil plant caused dense clouds of
smoke, confusing the later waves. Between 250 and
1,500 people were killed or wounded, some being
strafed by the fighters as they tried to flee
Although the new book as a whole sports some additional detail, a few new insights, and occasional reinterpretations (such as "civilians on their way to market" as opposed to "refugees"), for the most part this text is a somewhat abridged version of the older book. On the other hand, Gathering Storm benefits from an attractive Osprey-like layout, many well-chosen and thoughtfully captioned photos, and a number of visually appealing maps and diagrams, nice OBs, and color aircraft profiles. For example, the new book includes a full-page map of the region around Guernica with a diagram and explanation of the exact routes flown by the German bombers and fighters.
The larger Luftwaffe at War series might very well transcend the author's earlier works on the German air arm, but this particular volume is mostly an abbreviated, rehashed version of Phoenix Triumphant organized in a magazine format and gussied up with colorful images and artfully arranged white space.
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Lepage, Jean-Denis. German Military Vehicles of World War II: An Illustrated Guide to Cars, Trucks, Half-Tracks, Motorcycles, Amphibious Vehicles, and Others. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2007
Introduction; Glossary; Note on Weights and Measures; drawings; Conclusions; Bibliography; Index
Lepage divides his book into five chapters:
- General information
- Cars and motorcycles
- Trucks and tractors
- Wheeled combat vehicles
The first chapter offers introductory information on topics such as the German automotive industry, registration numbers, camouflage, and repair. The other four chapters list a wealth of military vehicles. For each, Lepage writes a few sentences and provides a black-and-white sketch. Here's an example of a typical entry:
The 3-ton Ford medium 4x2 truck
was built by the German branch of the Ford
Motor Company established in Cologne. In
1935 this branch had become an independent firm named Ford-Werke AG. The
company mainly produced 3-tonners, of
which about 50,000 were built between
1941 and 1944. The engine was a 3.9-liter
Ford V8, maximum speed was 85 km/h,
and payload was 3,300 kg. Fuel consumption was 32 liters/100 km on road, 45
liters/100 km cross-country; range on road
was 330 km and 230 km cross-country.
The 3-ton Ford had several conversions
including cargo carrier, ambulance and bus.
The company also manufactured the same
truck with track fitted to the rear bogie
known as the Ford Maultier (about 15,000
As far as it goes, this is all well and good. Unfortunately, the data seems a bit superficial. For example, Lepage fails to provide detailed production figures (such as tables of month-by-month output), location of factories, and comparison of relative efficiency (such as manpower and material needs) for building vehicles. Those kinds of shortcomings will disappoint readers interested in broader, more economic-related data. Similarly, modelers will be underwhelmed by the lack of useful information for crafting replicas. That's especially true because all the illustrations are relatively crude sketches with nary a photograph to be found.
German Military Vehicles is not a bad primer for someone who desires a broad overview of the subject with a fairly inclusive list of wheeled and tracked conveyances. However, it's certainly not the ultimate source in the field.
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Bertin, Francois. Allied Liberation Vehicles. Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2007
Photos; diagrams; Conclusion
Francois Bertin's book in many regards mirrors Lepage's work, with a survey of Allied military vehicles used by the Yanks, Brits, and Canadians in the west during 1944. Bertin splits his book into a long section on vehicles utilized by the Americans and a shorter one on those used by their English-speaking cousins. Whereas Lepage includes a fairly comprehensive array of entries, Allied Liberation Vehicles has a much smaller number of entries (the author apologizes for leaving out so many, but "several hundred pages would have been necessary to compose an exhaustive catalogue"), and indeed the book seems to be limited to those for which a suitable illustration could be located.
For the most part, Bertin writes a couple of introductory paragraphs about each general category, then provides for each individual entry a table of specifications and a photograph. The specs prove far more inclusive than in Lepage's book, with data for items such as engine displacement, bore, stroke, axle ratio, gear ratios, turning radius, and much more. Here's an example:
WHITE SCOUT CAR M3 Al
Car Scout, M3 A1
(White model M3 Al)
Empty weight: 4.5 tons
Total weight: 5.2 tons
Payload: 1.3 tons
Length: 221 inches
Width: 80 inches
Height: 83 inches
Front track width: 63 inches
Rear track width: 65 inches
Ground clearance: 16 inches
Wheelbase: 130 inches
Fuel: 25 gallons
Oil: 1.3 gallons
Water: 4 gallons
Electricity: 12 volts
Braking system: hydraulic
Tyres: 8.25 x 20
Displacement: 317 cubic inches
Engine speed: 2,700rpm
Bore: 4 inches
Stroke: 4.3 inches
Fuel consumption: 8mpg
Number of gears: 4
Transfer ratio: 1:87
Turning radius: 29ft
Tank range: 249 miles
Specific characteristics and equipment
Armour plating: 0.5 inches
One 0.5-inch machine-gun
One 0.3-inch machine-gun
Lepage's book sometimes notes raw production figures, but here nothing of that nature appears at all.
Unlike Lepage's black and white sketches, Bertin utilizes color photos to illustrate his material. However, these aren't wartime shots. Instead, they seem to come from reenactor groups, and the vehicles are apparently rebuilt/refurbished/repainted examples. The author gives no indication of how accurately any of these have been restored, what's original, what's refabricated, and so forth, so there's no way to know exactly what's authentic and what's just eye candy.
The overall effect seems rather like going to an antique car show to ogle some pimped out beauties, which is not an unpleasant experience, butlike Lepage's bookthis can't be considered remotely close to the ultimate source in the field.
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Dildy, Douglas C. Denmark and Norway 1940: Hitler's Boldest Operation. Botley, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2007
Chronology: photos; maps; diagrams; OBs; Further Reading; Index
The air-land-sea campaign in Denmark and Norway in 1940 remains one of the most interesting battles of the war, butas the author indicates in his "Further Reading"no comprehensive history of all three dimensions and all the combatants yet exists. Unfortunately, Dildy doesn't fill that gap.
Of course, that's not really the role Osprey books play when it comes to the history of World War II. Instead, they provide attractive, colorful, heavily illustrated outlines of operations, units, and equipment, and they point the way to other sources. That task Dildy accomplishes quite well, for this is a perfectly workmanlike examination of the ambitious German invasion, the rather jumbled Allied response, and roughly two months of combat resulting in the withdrawal of Allied forces and eventual surrender of the remaining Norwegian troops. As with most tomes on this subject, the account basically concludes with evacuation of the Allies from Narvik and ignores the final German occupation of the farthest northern reaches of the nation.
The book pays considerable heed to air and naval operations. Here's an example:
Since there were no suitable airfields in the region, the frozen Lake
Lesjaskog, located in the broad valley between Andalsnes and Dombas,
approximately 80km south of the former, was selected as the best possible
operating location. No. 263 Squadron, consisting of 18 Gladiator IIs led
by Squadron Leader John W. 'Baldy' Donaldson, sailed from Orkney on
20 April aboard HMS Glorious and, four days later, the Gladiators arrived
at their forward base and began setting up for combat operations.
What they found were severely primitive conditions and an almost
total absence of support. There were no facilities with all work having to
be done in the open, exposed to attack. The machine guns had to be
reloaded by hand, the airplanes refuelled using milk jugs acquired from
nearby farmers, and there was no acid for the batteries of the starter
cart. The unit was soon discovered by the Luftwaffe, which quickly
shifted its efforts to destroy the impudent British force.
Completely lacking an early warning system, with aircraft parked in
the open, the unit was hit repeatedly by German bomber formations
attacking at regular intervals for eight continuous hours. Between
attacks, at 1000hrs on 25 April, the unit launched its most significant
mission when six Gladiators flew top cover over the frontline troops at
Kvam for two hours. However, returning to Lake Lesjaskog they found
their base under attack yet again and shot down one He 111 as they
chased the raiders away.
During the afternoon subsequent sorties destroyed two He 111s but
the continued air raids destroyed all but five Gladiators on the ground.
By the end of the day Sqn. Ldr. Donaldson realized that the base was
untenable and withdrew the unit to Stetnesmeon, the Norwegian Army
depot near Andalsnes. With their fuel stocks exhausted, the following
day the last three Gladiators were burned and the men and what little
equipment could be saved were moved to Andalsnes for re-embarkment.
While emphasis on air-sea ops is completely understandable given their importance to the outcome of the campaign, in some ways that's a shame, because the work of the navies and air forces is already well-known. Likewise, Dildy's focus tendsafter the initial German landingsto give the battle a pronounced Anglo-centric flavor. That's fine as far as it goes, but it means two other aspects receive relatively short shrift. First, the author seems to have overlooked two key accounts of the campaign from the German perspective. In fact, it would be scarcely an exaggeration to suggest that no full treatment could be composed without reference to detailed information found in Earl Ziemke's The German Northern Theater of Operations and the spectacular map volume by Klaus-Jurgen Thies. In any event, the tactical nitty-gritty found in those sources has not made its way into this book.
Even more, what's really lacking (in Dildy's work as well as all the other English-language histories) is a full integration of the Norwegian experience. The campaign was, after all, fought on their territory and their troops were the last to succumb to the invaders, but the Norwegian armed forces are usually treated as an afterthought. A very detailed Norwegian official history exists, but apparently it has never been translated into English, and it seems to have been rarely consulted by English-speaking writers. Dildy ignores the official history series and recommends two much weaker titles (both translated into English) for the Norwegian perspective (and of those he misspells the name of one author).
Denmark and Norway 1940 emerges as a typical, visually pleasing Osprey title with first-class maps and diagrams and photos plus reasonably solid text, so this is a perfectly acceptable sketch of events but certainly not the volume for which serious researchers will in the future reach.
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Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 13 May 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone